Oct 30 2013

Life’s little glitches

You know that thing where you’re in a place with a lot of people you don’t see very often, and you cross paths with someone who says, warmly, “Hi, [your name here]!” and you know who it is but can’t pull the name up quite fast enough to say it before you’ve already said the “Hi” part and it’s too late? And you feel terrible? But then later you figure out a way to seek the person out so that you can say the name right off the bat? And then you feel very relieved?



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  1. 1
    Claire Ramsey

    Yes. I know.

    I also know the one where you recall the person’s name exactly as you are falling asleep.

  2. 2
    Peter N

    Well, in your defense, you’re memorable because you’re famous! Of course people recognize you at conferences!

    There’s a common disorder that makes it difficult for people to remember names, but, um, I’ve forgotten what it’s called…

  3. 3

    I know that too. Also from the other side:

    Many years ago I was working at a function and suddenly saw my SIL’s mother sitting at another table at lunch. We kind of waved at one another and that was it. I later heard that she had been racking her brain all day and night trying to figure out where she knew me from, because she thought I must have been there in a similar professional role to hers, rather than a completely different one, instead of us being distantly related.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    Peter – oh, that doesn’t make any difference. I hate it. Probably out of all proportion, but there you go. It just feels all wrong.

  5. 5

    I never use peoples names, solves this right away… Just – “Hi, how are *you* doing? It’s been a long while since I last saw *you* …. “, etc… Works a treat. Although I’m probably a borderline prosopagnosiac from so rarely using that bit of my brain.

  6. 6
    Peter N

    OB — Me too. I’m pathologically horrible with names. I feel like I come off as rude, when for example I am unable to introduce my wife to someone I recognize but can’t name, but I’m beating myself up inside. It makes me reluctant to put myself in situations where I might encounter people. [I know someone who claims that he was once unable to recall his wife's name. Now that would be awkward!]

    Maybe some day everyone will be a Jerry Coyne-style determinist, and we’ll all just naturally overlook each other’s quirks and personality disorders. [I think I might like to try that out in a sci-fi story before living in such a world, though.]

  7. 7
    Anthony K

    My partner and I have a code: we use a certain code word to indicate that we cannot remember the name of the person we’re talking with, and that the partner should step in and say, “Hi, I’m So-and-so. And you are?”

    Unfortunately, we have not yet worked out a code word to indicate that we’ve forgotten the code word to indicate that we cannot remember the name of the person we’re talking with.

    Fortunately, screaming “Why, you been cheatin’!” in a spaghetti Western accent while overturning the nearest table seems to lubricate all such social glitches.

  8. 8

    My husband and I have a pact that works pretty well. If we’re at one of his functions and he doesn’t introduce me right away, I jump in with “Hi, I’m Nora.” He does the same at my functions. Of course, he doesn’t introduce himself as Nora. That would be inappropriate.

  9. 9
    Anthony K

    I never use peoples names, solves this right away… Just – “Hi, how are *you* doing? It’s been a long while since I last saw *you* …. “, etc… Works a treat.

    I advise people to refer to everyone as “Famed pianist ‘Honky Tonk’ McKibbon” rather than a cold and impersonal ‘you’. Give it a two-week trial. If your social life isn’t completely transformed, I’ll give you your money back and pay the postage. You can’t lose!

  10. 10

    Perhaps said person had blanked on your name last time you met, but you didn’t notice. They had been biding their time for months to see you again in order to warmly greet you. It’s called “passing it on.”

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    oolon – omigod no it doesn’t solve it at all – that horrible inaudible but all the more real crunching sound as “Hi [your name here" is met with "Hi" - ugh no nothing solves that. [shudder]

  12. 12
    Acolyte of Sagan

    Maybe I’m just weird but what’s wrong with being honest?
    I’m pretty bad at remembering names myself so when it happens I just say ‘Hello. Forgive me but I’m terrible with names……’ The other person always volunteers their name, and I’ve never known anybody get offended by it yet.
    .On the other side of the coin, if somebody’s having trouble remembering my name (and to be fair, it’s obvious when someone’s winging it) I just laugh it off with ‘I have the same problem’ and simply remind them.
    Basic good manners, we used to call it.

  13. 13

    Names? I have difficulty remembering them unless I write their names in long hand and commit the picture of this writing to my mind together with their face. Memory is weird stuff.

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    Acolyte, well I think I gave enough detail to indicate what’s wrong with it. I hadn’t forgotten the name; as I said, I just hadn’t pulled it up quite fast enough to say it.

  15. 15
    Al Dente

    I was at a party and saw someone I felt I knew. I couldn’t remember where I knew him from or what his name was, but I knew I knew him. So I finally walked up to him and said “Excuse me, you look familiar, where do I know you from?” He replied “I’m your next-door neighbor.”

  16. 16
    Acolyte of Sagan

    Sorry Ophelia, I should have clarified; it was advice for those here leaving tips on what to do to avoid admitting they’d forgotten a name.

  17. 17
    Ophelia Benson


  18. 18

    This just happened to me a couple of weeks ago and I’ve felt bad about it ever since.

    And now reading other people’s experiences I feel better.

    The belly laugh helped too. Thanks, Anthony K.

  19. 19

    I’m sure Google has a product that solves the Naming Problem.

  20. 20

    George Walther in his “power talking” series recommends, “please remind me of your name.” I like that option because I don’t have to call myself stupid at remembering names.

  21. 21

    Ha – as a not-borderline-prosopagnosiac, this never happens to me, because I can work next to a person for months and when I see them out of context (during that same period of time, even) my only clue that I know them is that they appear to recognize me! It’s a feeling rather like being adrift, and here and there I see a face that I can cling to, that I recognize… Needless to say, I’ve had many classmates and colleagues express hurt when I’ve had to ask them where I knew them from, and I’ve learned to greet everyone as if I know them, just in case.

    (While initially skeptical, my fiancé (whom I recognize just fine) has taken to re-telling me the names of characters in movies so that I don’t get confused, which is both very sweet and incredibly helpful)

  22. 22
    Anthony K

    Maybe I’m just weird but what’s wrong with being honest?

    Never admit you can’t remember someone’s name unless you’re sure neither of you owes the other money.

  23. 23
    Acolyte of Sagan

    Anthony K, that’s something I hadn’t considered. But then I always lived by my grandfathers motto: never a lender or borrower be (unless you can charge exhorbitant interest).

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